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The Hamilton County Department of Education building is shown in this file photo.

Fourteen candidates are vying to be the next superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, according to documents emailed to the Hamilton County Board of Education on Friday afternoon.

Educators from several states, two businessmen, a current superintendent, a professor and an assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Education are some of the candidates on the list search firm Coleman Lew and Associates Inc. provided the board.

School board Chairman Steve Highlander and the board's attorney, Scott Bennett, did not immediately respond to a records request asking for the information Friday. However, the Times Free Press obtained the records elsewhere.

The information provided to the board about the candidates is public record, but the board has seven working days under the law to respond to the request.

Highlander sent an email to the board at 1:32 p.m. Friday, telling them "it would be best not to share information outside our group until we make our first cut. ..."

"While I value openness, I do not wish to put those first cut under needless scrutiny," he continued in the email.

Ken Carrick, president and managing director at Coleman, will be available to talk to board members individually about the candidates next week, as the board plans to whittle down the number of candidates before conducting public video conference interviews.

After the interviews, the board is expected to select a handful of finalists to come to Hamilton County for in-person interviews. The board's goal is to have a permanent superintendent by July.

The 14 applicants are:

  • Natasha Baker: state school reform officer for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Previously, Baker was the deputy superintendent and state school reform officer in the division of education services for the Michigan Department of Education.
  • Alan Coverstone: assistant professor of education and director of graduate programs in education at Belmont University. Previously, Coverstone was the executive officer of charter schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools, and also served as the executive officer for innovation in the district.
  • Clifford Davis, Jr.: chief of staff for Knox County Schools. Davis has been in Knox County Schools since 2005, previously working as the executive director of secondary education.
  • Nakia Towns Edwards: assistant commissioner in the data and research division of the Tennessee Department of Education. Towns previously worked as the chief accountability officer for Knox County Schools, where she also served as the director of human capital strategy. Towns was also in the financial sector from 2001 to 2010, serving as a regional vice president at Wachovia Bank and Bank of America.
  • Natalie Elder: a former Hamilton County principal and the current director of school improvement and professional development for Stamford Public School System in Connecticut. Elder was principal at Hardy Elementary from 2001 to 2009, and before that worked at several other schools across the Hamilton County and Chattanooga city school systems.
  • Jack Elsey, Jr.: chief schools officer for the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan. Prior to this, Elsey was the chief officer of innovation and incubation for Chicago Public Schools. From 2005-2011 he was the managing director of public affairs and school relations for Teach for America, New York.
  • Timothy Gadson III: superintendent designee and executive director of curriculum and schools for Robbinsdale Area Schools in Minnesota. From 2014 to 2016, Gadson worked as the associate superintendent for Atlanta Public Schools.
  • Kevin Gaffney: principal and founder of the Gaffney Consulting Group in Chattanooga. Before that, Gaffney was the president and chief executive officer for the Houston Regional Sports Network and also worked as a senior vice president of the eastern division at Turner Broadcasting Systems.
  • Stuart Greenberg: chief academic officer for Leon County Public Schools in Flordia. Prior to that, Greenberg was the executive director for Reading and Early Learning for the Florida Department of Education. Greenberg was one of the six finalists in Knox County's recent superintendent search.
  • Bryan Johnson: chief academic officer for Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee. Before being named to that position, he served as the director of high schools for the district.
  • Arthur Wayne Johnson: founder and chairman of First Performance Corporation. Prior to that, Johnson was the CEO of Reunion Financial Services Corporation and a managing partner at Global Education Partners. He lives in Georgia.
  • Kirk Kelly: interim superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. Kelly has been an educator in Chattanooga City and Hamilton County Schools for 35 years, starting as a math teacher and moving up to assistant superintendent for accountability and testing, before being selected to serve as interim superintendent.
  • Verna Ruffin: superintendent of Jackson-Madison County Schools in Tennessee since 2013. Before that, Ruffin was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, special education and student support services for Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma.
  • Andre Wright: learning community director for Aurora Public Schools in Colorado. Wright also worked in the Fulton County School System in Atlanta, serving as the area executive director for the northeast learning community

(Information about each candidate is taken from the résumés emailed to the school board.)

Kelly is the only internal candidate to apply for the job, and soon board members will have to decide if he should continue serving as interim superintendent while being considered for the permanent post.

The board named Kelly interim superintendent a year ago after former Superintendent Rick Smith resigned from his spot at the helm after weathering months of turmoil following the Ooltewah High School rape case.

Some members of the school board advocated for hiring Kelly for the permanent position in October, before the board ultimately decided to hire the search firm. Kelly then asked the board to conduct a transparent search before hiring him.

The search is estimated to cost about $60,000, and the firm was at first optimistic it could provide a slate of candidates to the board by late February. But it took the board until the end of January to finalize the job description. In March, Coleman sent a letter to the board, stating the "overall response/interest [in the superintendent position] has been very light."

Carrick said in the letter that the firm had reached out to about 700 potential candidates and would continue to aggressively contact people for the post.

Whoever is selected as the new superintendent will be Hamilton County's fourth permanent superintendent since the city and county school system merged in 1997.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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